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December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

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Getting Ready In Auckland

I've spent the past few days at the Amberley B&B in the Auckland suburb of Devonport getting ready for my road trip around New Zealand trip, and the proprietors, Mary and Michael Burnett, have done their best to assimilate into the Kiwi culture.  Listening to them talk, I'm even getting used to the Kiwi accent, which is pleasant but hard to describe -- it's like an English accent but "Yes" is pronounced "Yiss" and "check" is pronounced "cheek."


Devonport is a beautiful historic town on the north side of the bay with a passenger ferry linking it to Auckland.  After spending a few days in Devonport, I hopped on the ferry, crossed the bay, and 20 minutes later was walking around downtown Auckland.  I stopped by my company's Auckland office around noon and gave them a PowerPoint slide show on the Portland office and some scenic places in America.  The 20-or-so folks in the office were very kind, some giving me their phone numbers and telling me to call if I got into any trouble while in New Zealand.


After the slide show, I spent a couple of hours walking around downtown Auckland, a city of about a million and half people and the largest city in New Zealand.  I've visited most major cities in the U.S. and of those cities, Auckland reminds me the most of Seattle (other than the balmy climate, palm trees, and tattooed Maories, of course).  It's a little smaller than Seattle, but it's hilly, is on the waterfront, and is vibrant with an ethnically-diverse population and a cosmopolitan feel.  



Above left:  After a few days in Devonport, I hopped on the ferry to Auckland and spent a day checking it out.

Above center:  I stopped at the Parsons Brinckerhoff office in Auckland for an hour to give a slide show. 

Above right:  The old and the new in downtown Auckland.


While Seattle has the Space Needle, Auckland has the Sky Tower, which was built as a tourist attraction a few years ago and is currently the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere.  For $8, you can ride the elevators to the top and get a spectacular 360-degree view of the city sprawling beneath.  Some of the floor panels on the viewing deck are clear plastic, which made me a bit queasy to walk on since I could see 600 feet straight down to the sidewalk.  Several little kids were vigorously jumping up and down on the clear floor panels, but I'm not sure what they were trying to accomplish!


Not surprisingly, they play a lot of New Zealand music on the radio stations here.  Here's the Kiwi group, Crowded House, singing Don't Dream, It's Over.  New Zealanders were surprised when I told them that it had been a big hit in the U.S.

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As I prepared for my two-month drive around New Zealand, I made a list of all the things I'd need, such as a cooler, folding chair, small folding table, and campstove fuel (called "shellite" over here).  With my typical-American attitude, I figured that I'd just drop by the nearest "Target"-like store to pick up everything I needed. 


After talking about this with my hosts Mary and Michael, however, I learned that New Zealand doesn't have many large discount stores like that.  Instead, as they told me, small, specialized shops are much more common here.   Finally, they suggested that I try a store called The Warehouse, located several miles away.  Come to think of it, I'd been hearing radio ads for The Warehouse during my past few days in Auckland (with their irritating jingle: "The Warehouse, The Warehouse, Where everyone gets a bargain"), but I wasn't really sure exactly what it was.


I drove down to The Warehouse that morning and got most of what I needed, but as I've been cruising around the Auckland area these past few days, I realized that Mary and Michael were right.  The shopping situation in New Zealand is similar to what is was in America, say, 40 years ago, before the giant discount stores started taking over.  O.K., being a foreigner and not knowing my way around Auckland, I admit that the Warehouse came in handy for me this time, but these types of big-box stores do come at a price.  I hope things in New Zealand stay the way it is now, with lots of small, friendly Mom-and-Pop type stores.  So Wal-Mart, please keep out.



Above left:  The Sky Tower dominates the Auckland skyline.  It was completed a few years ago and is the highest structure in the southern hemisphere.  

Above center:  For about $8, you can ride to the top and get a magnificent view.

Above right:  The Auckland harbor from the Sky Tower.



Above left:  There's only one freeway in Auckland ("The Motorway").  Maybe that's a good thing.

Above center:  Auckland is called "The City of Sails."  Here's the Auckland marina.  As every Kiwi will proudly tell you, Auckland is currently the home of the America's Cup.

Above right:  They give walking tours of the Harbor Bridge, and I hope to do it when I get back here next month.



Above left:  Looking straight down.

Above center:  And, on the sidewalk, looking straight up.

Above right:  Street scene in Auckland.



Above left:  Gee, how do Kiwis really feel about Aussies? 

Above center:  On the ferry boat back to Devonport.  That's Mt. Victoria, one of many dormant volcanoes in the Auckland area, in the background.  Portland is the only city in the U.S. that has a volcano within its city limits... and it has only one.  Auckland has over a dozen.

Above right:  Devonport is a picturesque historic suburb and, like many small towns in New Zealand, it's vibrant with lots of little shops right next to each other on long blocks.  As I'm discovering, this is the typical pattern in small New Zealand towns, unlike the average American small town with a decaying downtown and a Wal-Mart on the outskirts.


New Zealand's Geography and History in a Nutshell

I've been in New Zealand for almost a week now.  When I haven't been getting ready for my trip, I've been studying up on this country and poring over maps and photos, so I couldn't wrap this page up without a brief lesson on New Zealand's geography and history.  Being an American, Iíll probably mess this up a bit but here goes. First, the geography.  


New Zealand is a country about as large as Oregon with about as many people, around 4 million.  There are two major islands here that are named, not too imaginatively, the North Island and the South Island. 


The North Island, which is conveniently located north of the South Island, has about twice as many people as the South Island.  The North Island also has the largest city, Auckland, and the capital, Wellington.  The North Island is quite volcanic as opposed to the South Island, which has a lot of alpine scenery, farms, fields... and sheep.  Except in the mountains, the New Zealand climate on both islands is pretty mild with coastal high temperatures during the summertime (that's now) typically between 70 and 80 degrees.  I've worn shorts and t-shirts every day that I've been here so far, but I guess I didn't need to mention that for those of you Americans who are suffering through blizzards and ice storms.


Now for a little history.  The islands were settled by Maoris (pronounced "MOW-rees") who migrated here from the South Pacific, including the Cook Islands, where I had just come from.  I always figured the Maoris settled in New Zealand first and then moved on to the islands in the South Pacific but it was just the opposite.  The Maoris in general were (and are) a strong and independent people.  



Above:  Captain James Cook, the first European to explore New Zealand.


The first European to discover New Zealand was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who named it in honor of the Zeeland province in Holland.  Tasman discovered New Zealand in the 1600s but Europeans left New Zealand alone for the next hundred years when Captain James Cook, who made several remarkable explorations of the South Pacific between 1769 and 1778, explored the country and claimed New Zealand and Australia for England. 


I had stumbled across Cook's journals when I was in college several years ago and spent many evenings in the U.C. Irvine library reading about Cook's discoveries in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the Pacific when I probably should have been studying for my midterms.  Cook was really a remarkable explorer and he even visited the Oregon coast once -- that was shortly before he was killed in Hawaii.  In fact, I had crossed paths with Captain Cook in June on my trip down the Oregon coast (see News: June 14, 2001).


Settlement in New Zealand began in the early 1800s, not by convicts as in Australia but mostly by farmers and miners, hence New Zealand's more genteel culture.  Although there were some conflicts with the natives, Maoris in general were assimilated into the white society here more smoothly than the aborigines were in Australia, and much more smoothly than the Indians were in the U.S. 


The Maori culture is still very strong in New Zealand, much more so than the Indian culture is in the U.S.  In fact, most place names in New Zealand seem to be Maori names, and you see Maoris all around the North Island and a bit less so on the South Island.  Most Maori names have three or four syllables, often alternating vowels with consonants -- and they really crack me up.  Unlike English place-names, though, I can't seem to remember the Maori place-names very well, probably because of the various combinations of puka's, rangi's, roa's, and papa's, like "Papakoura," "Paparoa," and my favorite, "PapaMurphy" (that's a pizza chain in the U.S. -- some culinary humor -- or "humour," as they say here in New Zealand).


Christmas?  What Christmas?

I've been in balmy Auckland for a few days now and one of the strangest things to remember is that Christmas is coming up soon.  Because I've lived in the Midwest and Northwest for many years, it just doesn't seem like Christmas without snow, clouds, rain, and cold weather.  In fact, it feels like August now so I don't think spending Christmas alone this year, which will be my first Christmas alone, will be a big deal.


Yesterday, December 20, marked the beginning of the summer school holiday season.  Summer vacation for kids here lasts only 6 weeks until the end of January, instead of three months as in the U.S.  Summer vacation here coincides, of course, with Christmas and New Year's, which makes this an especially hectic time of year, with lots of Kiwis taking off for a couple weeks or more (as I've learned, Kiwis get quite a bit more vacation time than Americans).  Summer vacation also coincides almost exactly with my planned visit to New Zealand, something I won't do again in the future.  I think next time I come here, it'll be either in November, February or March.


I'm not really looking forward to traveling around New Zealand between Christmas and New Year's, but I'll see what the highway, campground, and lodging situation is like after I leave here tomorrow, heading south.  I'm going to get down to the South Island as fast as I can, where things will hopefully be a little less crazy.



Above left:  Auckland from the Mt. Victoria volcano in Devonport.

Above center:  The Devonport waterfront.

Above right:  A sweaty Santa.  Merry Christmas!



Next News

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)



Previous News

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington) 


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Home > Travels (2001-02) > New Zealand Trip > December 20, 2001